UnitingStories – Rev John Steed

I grew up on our family’s farm near Ballymena, as the oldest of 3 boys. Ballymena is a provincial town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Back then, it had some 6,000 inhabitants. You could be forgiven for not knowing where it is because during World War 2, many road signs and street names were removed for safety against intrusion by spies. In recent times however, Ballymena has become synonymous with many famous names, like the actor Liam Neeson who attended Ballymena Technical College where I once studied.

After the “Belfast Blitz” of 1941, I remember, as a younger child, carrying my gas mask around with me and participating in gas mask drills at school. There was a fear that Ballymena, located only some 50 kms away from Belfast, could also be the target of air raids. So, like the rest of Britain, we kept our masks at hand, carried identity cards, used food ration books and covered our windows at night as part of blackout restrictions.

In my mid-teens, I came to faith in Christ. A persistent memory of mine is when one of my peers observing me as I spoke at a fellowship meeting, declared, “you could be a minister!”.

Instead, after completing an apprentice as a coppersmith/pipe fitter, I moved to Portsmouth in England, to work for the British Admiralty (Navy) in its dockyards. In that era, shipbuilding was a dominant industry – commercially in Belfast where grand ships like the Titanic were built, and militarily for Britain as a strong naval power during the first and second world wars and later during the Cold War. When I was in Portsmouth, there were some 22,000 working at the dockyards; latterly I read that it was down to 2,000. The naval base where the dockyards are located now has an on-site museum and even a dockyard tour.

During my four years in Portsmouth, I became closely involved in the local Methodist Church on Twyford Avenue, North End (since demolished), attending services and assisting with Sunday School, youth group and as a layer preacher. It prompted me to save up to attend a year-long course for lay people to train in local church ministry. I did this at Cliff College in Calver, a small, picturesque rural village in Derbyshire, bordered by the River Derwent.

After my course, I was appointed as a Lay Pastor in Cheshire serving a group of rural and small churches. Unbeknown to me, this experience would be significant for my future ministry in Australia. A timely visit in mid-1962 by Rev S. J. (Sydney John) Jenkins from Western Australia convinced me (and two others) to make the decision to go to Australia and participate in the local ministry. I arrived in Perth in December 1962. As far as I knew then, I was the only member of my family ever to go to Australia.

I began as a Lay Minister with the Methodist Home Missions in Carnamah. This was a ground-breaking ministry as it was the first time Methodists and Presbyterians had shared a minister. I went on to serve at South Perth. Then In 1966, I commenced full-time study for 3 years at Barclay Theological College, Nedlands, to become a Minister of the Word. After that, I was stationed at Lake Grace Methodist Church for 3 years.

During this time, I met Anne, a laboratory technologist, at a church youth rally in Perth. She was working in Papua New Guinea at a government leprosy hospital staffed by the London Missionary Society.

1970 was a big year, Anne and I married in September and 3 weeks later I was ordained as a Minister at Wesley Church in the city.

I then went on to serve as a Methodist Minister at Cunderdin-Quairading church, and then as a Uniting Church Minister at Moora, Kalgoorlie, Busselton and Narrogin. Busselton was my longest appointment at 9 years, followed by Kalgoorlie for 7.5 years. I retired on 31 October 2005 at age 69 after a total of 39 years in ministry. Since my retirement, I still take worship services, when asked, mainly in the metro area, but I have also travelled out to York, Gingin and Toodyay. I also do volunteer work at the Uniting Church WA archives centre.

As an aside – in 1980, Anne, myself and our then two children went to live in Cavan, Ireland, for 3 years. Whilst my father had died by that time, it was a homecoming to see my two half-brothers and other extended family and also to introduce my children to them. I was also able to meet my mother’s family who I had not met after she had died when I was two years old. I learnt then that I had a paternal uncle who had been living in Australia long before me. Working the Methodist circuit church of Cavan, gave me the opportunity to give back to the country where my Christian faith was borne.

Being a minister is a privilege. You meet a lot of people, develop many close pastoral relationships, become a key figure of the local community and participate in community life and significant events. Some standout memories for me include: conducting the Lake Grace Golden Jubilee celebrations, opening the new church building at Quairading; and the dedication of new church halls at Moora and Kalgoorlie. I’ve conducted many, many weddings and funerals; and pastoral visits which I love to do. It’s also been a privilege to visit Fiji with Anne for her work with the leprosy hospital and patients.

The Church has taken me from Ireland, to locations in and across metro, rural and remote WA, with Anne and our children. In fact, if I had to go through the alphabet of all the places where I have ministered, there would be few letters left! Even our four children were all born in different places – Paul in Cunderdin, David in Moora, Carolyn in Ireland and Andrew in Kalgoorlie.

Being a minister has allowed me to use the gifts of preaching and pastoral care that God gave me – although, I don’t always come off unscathed! After a Sunday service one morning, I remember a congregation member saying of my preaching: “That’s the biggest load of rubbish I ever heard!”. I quipped back in good humour: “Well, that’s the best compliment I’ve had from you in a long time!”.

I feel close to God when I am doing the work of God – I feel it in my heart. When you give, it always comes back and it’s a really good feeling.

In Moora, 1978, with Anglican and Roman Catholic ministers
In Kalgoorlie, 1984, with my confirmation group

A Chat with Pepe Halatau, Worship Leader of the Tapu Niue Faith Community

After the Welcoming Service for the Tapu Niue Faith Community last Sunday at Gosnells Uniting Church, Pepe Halatau, Worship Leader, shared with us her journey of faith and Church.

I still remember the year I arrived in Australia from Niue. It was 1998. It’s hard to believe that it is now almost 24 years ago.

Niue is an island country in the South Pacific Ocean. It is one of the world’s largest coral islands and I can confirm it is as stunningly beautiful as it looks in pictures.

I settled in well in Australia but soon found myself longing for connection with family, the community and the culture I enjoyed back in Niue. Fortunately, I met other Niue people in my area who felt the same and we decided to form a community group for socials and other events. Amidst all of this, the one thing we seemed to lack was a spiritual gathering. It was then, in 2014, that we decided to meet up for Church meetings.

We had no idea how to conduct our Church meetings. Lucky for us, Niue elder, Tina Siakimotu Versteeg, stepped in. We couldn’t have done it without her. She introduced a worship format, the lectionary and prayer calendar to our meetings. Sadly, Tina is now late but we cherish her memory and hold her deep in our hearts.

We started meeting at the Gosnells RSL Hall and continued there for a few years. It was not easy. We did not have powerpoint facilities and we had to set-up and pack away after each service. It was a lot of work but we felt we had a purpose and connection, so we continued. I became Tina’s assistant. In retrospect, this was quite extraordinary because whilst I was a young Christian, later on I was a bit of a rebel and going to Church was not a priority. Now here I was reconnecting again with my faith.

In July 2018, a meeting was held at Dome Café in Gosnells between elder Tina, leaders of our Niue community and the Uniting Church’s multi-cultural representatives, Rev Dr Matagi Vilitama and Rev Dr Emanuel Audisho, to discuss the possibility of a deeper, more formal relationship with the Uniting Church. We followed this up with a written request. Rev Bev Fabb, Convenor of the Uniting Church’s Multi-cultural and Cross-cultural Network, put us in touch with the Uniting Church’s Presbytery of Western Australia. We then started preparations to become a Faith Community of the Presbytery. Our Welcoming Service was on Sunday 6 February 2022 at Gosnells Uniting Church.

 

Being a Faith Community of the Uniting Church’s WA Presbytery is truly special. We have better access to resources, training and support. We are not alone and belong to a broader Christian community and network. We have a space at the Gosnells Uniting Church building to grow our church. “Tapu”, by the way, is the Niue name for Church.

I would like to acknowledge the Tapu Niue Working Committee, the elders Poi & Povi Kauhiva, Niue Perth Community who have contributed a lot – without their support we would not have come this far to becoming a faith group. We value the support from the Uniting Church in Australia’s Niue National Conference. I would also like to thank my mentors during this process – my siblings, Rev Falkland Liuvaie and Birtha Togahai, and also the Rev Dr Matagi & Jo Matagi and Elaine Ledgerwood from the Uniting Church WA. Thanks also to the Presbytery of WA. To anyone not mentioned, my heartfelt thanks to you too.

When I look back now, I pinch myself. I remember back in 2014 being tasked with saying the Sunday prayers. I was distressed and sent an urgent email to my cousin in New Zealand to ask her what should I say! We still laugh about it because now I am the Worship Leader of the Tapu Niue Faith Community! You never quite know what God has got planned for you!

 

Note: The Tapu Niue was formed in 2014. In 2018, they approached the Uniting Church to become a recognised Faith Community. After a long period of preparation, the day finally arrived on 6 February to welcome this very special community to the Uniting Church’s Presbytery of Western Australia.

Article by Tracey Paul

Perth Faith groups join global demonstration for climate justice

Increasingly impatient that governments, corporations, and financial institutions have not addressed the climate crisis despite decades of warnings from scientists and mounting climate impacts, the Uniting Church WA joined with the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) and diverse faith communities around the globe in a co-ordinated action today under the banner of Faiths 4 Climate.

Ann Zubrick, Presiding Clerk of Quakers Australia joined the Western Australian branch of ARRCC as they gathered outside the office of Federal Member of Parliament, the Hon Steve Irons. Supporters in Bunbury also gathered outside the office of the Federal Member for Forrest, Hon Nola Marino MP. Continue Reading

Mission Plan starts with community connection

During its Mission Planning process in 2018, one of the disturbing learnings for Star Street Uniting Church in Carlisle was that we were virtually invisible in our local community.

While our building is on a busy intersection, it is not immediately identifiable as a church – many locals thought it was part of a nearby nursing home, or a business or offices. A few years ago an attractive mural to symbolise our church had been created on an outside wall, but it was clear we needed more. Few local residents knew about our church, what we did or what we stood for. Continue Reading

Get involved in the Permanency Campaign

Living in a time of video calls and social distancing, it’s easy to feel unsure about what the future holds. Earlier this year many speculated about life on the other side of COVID-19.

Nine months on, that future remains uncertain. But for some members of our community, this precariousness has lasted much longer. For many refugees, a chance at a new life in Australia can mean living in uncertainty for eight or more years without knowing if they’ll be allowed to make their home here, or forced to return to the violence they sought safety from. Continue Reading

Reconnect with the Covenant

The Uniting Church WA, through the Social Justice Commission, has released a Covenanting resource for its congregations.

A Guide to Congregations in Walking Together as First and Second Peoples encourages and supports councils of the church to re-commit to the Covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC), to engage and deepen covenantal relationships, and to inspire the church to take action for creating change. Continue Reading

Tranby Engagement Hub a WA first

Uniting WA is thrilled to have opened the doors to its transformed Tranby Engagement Hub (Tranby), Perth’s first co-designed and purpose-built crisis intervention space for people experiencing homelessness.

Minister for Community Services, Simone McGurk, officially launched the newly renovated Tranby, made possible by a $1.7m grant from Lotterywest, at an event in June.Continue Reading

Uniting Church WA calls to protect LGBTQA+ community from harmful ‘conversion therapies’

The Uniting Church WA calls on the Western Australian Government to work closely with the LGBTQA+ community and survivors of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE), including people of faith, to introduce legislation to protect people from harmful ‘conversion therapies’.

This practice, which encourages efforts to directly and indirectly attempt to change or supress a person’s sexuality or gender identity, has caused serious, ongoing, and tragic harm to those affected. Continue Reading

Uniting Church WA calls to end deaths in custody

The Uniting Church WA calls on the Western Australian Government to commit to ending preventable deaths in custody, noting the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in WA’s justice system, particularly among young people.

The church also calls on the government to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody; embed culturally appropriate mental health support in police lockups, prisons and places of detention; broaden cultural awareness training for police, juvenile justice and prison officers; and work with Aboriginal Elders, community leaders and organisations to co-design an Aboriginal Justice Agreement.Continue Reading